Taboo Thursdays: Revolution Makers or Cliché Perpetrators

June 27, 2013 -


Underground hip hop is widely revered as sort of escape from the empty, valueless world of mainstream rap.  These are the artists who talk about the real issues and who actually care.  A step to the side from Bacardi and champagne to take a finer, more critical look at the world.

However, today in underground hip hop, there are certain ideas that tend to continuously reappear in songs. These issues range from political corruption to the meaningless repetition in mainstream music. Regardless of the validity of the statements made, it is undeniable that they are frequently used, possibly to the point of futility.

Many underground hip hop artists claim they are trying to step away from such commonplace themes as money and the luxurious lifestyle, but many  simply replace these with such themes as politics and corporations. Though criticism of politics and corporations does have the potential to be elaborate and moving, some rappers explore these with equal depth that mainstream artists do drugs and sex, making them no better or worse.

Why do I choose to investigate this? I believe that many listeners and rappers of the music that lacks true depth use this type of music as a sort of crutch to fall on. Dissatisfied with current events, they claim that these songs are their fight against the injustices of the world. Instead of taking an indepth look at certain problems and evaluating all aspects, they state this to be their form of revolution, never actually changing anything

First Case: Aesop Rock- None Shall Pass

Many underground hip hop fans are very familiar with the rapper Aesop Rock.  Putting his first album out in 1997, Aesop has been a front man for the underground hip hop scene.  His music often deals with the themes described above.  The song I am going to delve into is “None Shall Pass” released in 2007 on the album None Shall Pass.

I am personally a huge fan of Aesop Rock, but this song I feel does exactly what I discussed above.  It does address a certain dissatisfaction, but in such an ambiguous manner to create no lasting effect.

The song discusses political dissatisfaction such as in the lines "flash that buttery gold jittery zeitgeist/ Wither by the watering hole, Border patrol" in reference to false promises by politicians.  On top of this it discusses police brutality when saying "Blood turns wine when it leak for police/like that's not a riot it's a feast, let's eat."  It also point out dismay for mainstream rap artists "To the jokers who pose by glitz fine sign/of the swine in the swarm/ when a king is a who comply and conform."

All of the hot button, underground themes have been hit, but to what effect?  Less than a verse to explore each topic, only touching each with a few appealing metaphors.  In this song, Aesop has begun to conform to the underground hip hop scene, similar to the mainstream rap artists he references, except he has replaced "glitz" with disdain for the government and the way it handles certain events.

There is no doubt that the issues he discusses are real and have incredibly negative consequences, but the surface level description leaves no separation between them and the popular themes of mainstream rappers.

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